Home Australia George Pell looked a changed man as he was sentenced for his crime

George Pell looked a changed man as he was sentenced for his crime


In the end, he was just an elderly, grey-faced man in the dock.

Not a prince of the church, not a cardinal, but a man convicted of and sentenced for terrible crimes against children.

A man who once flew first class will celebrate his 78th birthday in prison, and at the very least, his 79th, 80th and 81st.

A large part of it will be in protective custody because this man is and remains a lightning rod for discontent in the Australian community and, as a psychiatrist who specialises in child sexual abuse once told me, prisons are full of victims of these crimes.

George Pell’s reaction to receiving his sentence was only seen by those in the courtroom — the world was watching but the broadcast stayed steadily on County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd.

We saw a man in a beige jacket and black shirt who seemed to have aged years in a matter of weeks.

His clerical collar and his Order of Australia pin were conspicuously absent.

His face was impassive, his mouth in a firmly pressed straight line, throughout the blistering hour or so of Chief Judge Kidd’s sentence for five sexual abuse charges against two 13-year-old choirboys.

The crimes were brazen, the judge said, and “breathtakingly arrogant”.

“The power imbalance between the victims and senior church leaders or officials, yourself included, was stark.”

Here was the man who dined with prime ministers, who went into battle in the culture wars, who cast an enormous shadow over the Catholic Church and Australian culture life.

He spent his days telling the rest of us how we ought to live our lives, and now, here he was, scratching out his signature on the sex offender register.

He could be on that register for life.

The view from the courtroom

I was at the front of the court. He was at the back in the dock. I glanced back at Pell — who has lodged an appeal against his conviction and denies the abuse — many times during the sentence.

One of those times was when the chief judge was describing the incident in the sacristy at St Patrick’s Cathedral — the awful abuse of those boys.

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